You’ve put your finger on the most flagrant example of figures that lie, with the possible exception of breast implants.
Let’s take a look at some statistics.
From 1994 to 1997, the average number of shark attacks per year in U.S. waters was thirty-three. In the same four years, the average number of fatal airplane crashes was three. So you’re eleven times less likely to be in a fatal crash than to be attacked by a shark, right?
Wrong. It is utterly meaningless to compare two such completely different sets of circumstances. Why on earth would anyone want to mention shark attacks and plane crashes in the same breath, except to push a predetermined point of view? Anyone who is comforted by such a fake argument is more likely to die of gullibility than from either a shark or an airplane.
But even if it were relevant to compare such totally unrelated sets of figures, they would still be meaningless without a lot of other information. Did the people who were killed in air crashes fly a lot more, or a lot less, than you do? If so, their odds were different from yours. And how many of America’s 250 million citizens even went into the water? Did they do it in Florida, where most shark attacks occur, or in New York, where all the dangerous animals are in the zoos and subways?
What people fail to understand is that when you’re in an airplane, your chances of dying in a crash are infinitely higher, not lower, than your chances of being attacked by a shark, because except for lawyers, there are no predatory beasts on airplanes. Worry about sharks when you’re in the water; worry about airplanes when you’re in the air. The only possible connection would be if your plane crashes into shark-infested waters, in which case your statistical ass is up for grabs.
But a legitimate question remains: How much should you worry about airplanes when you’re in the air? What are the relevant statistics?
I feel safe when flying because of one statistic only, and it has nothing to do with the numbers of deaths by shark attacks, drowning, accidental falls, suicides, auto accidents or lightning strikes, numbers that are frequently quoted to assuage the fears of white-knuckled passengers, and all equally irrelevant.
The one statistic that I keep quoting to myself has to do with my particular flight, the one I’m actually on. And the probability of any one flight ending in a fatal crash is about 1 in 2.5 million. That’s plenty good enough for me. Except when my flight gets bumpy, of course.